Westbank has built a practice around long-term commitments to artistry, sustainability and city-building. These commitments underlie an orientation towards projects like Woodwards, Vancouver House, Mirvish Village, Telus Garden and Oakridge – catalysts for larger change that go beyond the borders of the projects themselves. We are here to create. To provoke. To ignite. We are the vehicle for a new movement of cultural expression.

As the practice matures, we have become more ambitious. With every new project reflecting our commitment to the philosophy behind Gesamkunstwerk, or in our recent work the Japanese philosophy behind layering, the net effect is that our work becomes much more complex and far-reaching.

The core of Westbank’s mission is to create a body of work with a high degree of artistry that helps foster more equitable and beautiful cities. Westbank is active across Canada and in the United States, with projects including luxury residential, Five Star hotels, retail, office, rental, district energy systems, affordable housing initiatives and public art. Established in 1992, we are one of North America’s leading developers, with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Seattle, Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and over 25 billion dollars of projects completed or under development.

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February 27, 2014

The History of Gesamtkunstwerk

There’s a bright new light in Vancouver, in the form of a neon installation just off the Granville Street Bridge, spelling out a tongue-twister of a word: Gesamtkunstwerk.

A brave many attempted to say it (pronounced get-zahmt-KOONST-VAIRK), and an even braver few guessed what it meant.

Coined in the 1820s, this German word was popularized by composer Richard Wagner in essays published in 1849. For Wagner, it was the ideal word to promote his notion of creating all aspects of his operas, from scores and librettos, to costumes, sets, even an entire theatre building at Bayreuth.

Gesamtkunstwerk became a core concept and rallying call for architectural Modernists who wished to remake Europe’s cities, devastated by World War I. Walter Gropius, architect and director of the omni-arts school the Bauhaus, promoted a version of the concept with a sharper definition, updating it as “Total Design” with designers and architects (such as Philip Johnson and James Cheng) enriching every scale of contemporary life, from teaspoons to cities.

Today, the definition of gesamtkunstwerk is fully evolved: Life as a total work of art.

These are the very words that this project lives by.


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